Review and photos by
Peter Bleakney, Autos.ca
My name is Peter and I like minivans.
I’ve owned two. If I were to raise another family (ha!), I’d buy one. I tell my domesticated friends who are looking at crossovers to buy minivans. They tell me where to get off.
There. I’ve said it.
While minivans will forever remain terminally uncool, Nissan, a company never afraid to go out on a stylistic limb, is doing its part to help ease the pain. The all-new fourth-generation 2011 Quest is a funky looking rig, and one that will surely have the tongues a waggin’ at the schoolyard.
Sure, it’s a big box on wheels, but it comes across as intriguingly post-modern retro with its steeply raked windscreen, slab sides and wrap-around greenhouse that is part Jules Verne and part 50s Chevy Nomad. Jeez, it might even be cool.
But maybe it’s time to retire the “minivan” handle. There is nothing mini about the seven-seat 2011 Quest, which my 13 year-old daughter dubbed the Big Blob of Beige (BBB). While its footprint matches most competitors, the BBB’s 1855 mm height has it towering over the Grand caravan by 100 mm. Headroom is more than generous. Compared to the Toyota Sienna, there’s an additional 70 mm of airspace for your beehive or Stetson.And there is a minivan market out there, despite Ford, GM and Hyundai bailing from the segment. The Dodge Grand Caravan was Canada’s #3 seller in 2010, and both Toyota and Honda have introduced all-new Dad-illacs for 2011.
Built on an expanded Murano/Maxima platform, power comes from Nissan’s venerable VQ 3.5-litre V6, making 260 hp, 240 lb.-ft. and driving the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
While the exterior may be rad, the inside is trad, and lovingly rendered here in top-line LE trim with supple leather, soft-touch surfaces, and wood-like trim. It’s a swanky, Infiniti-class cabin that makes the competitors look low-rent.
The first and second-row captain’s chairs are supremely comfortable (there is no second-row bench option) and the flip-up third row (powered in the LE) is habitable by smallish humans. If there are complaints, the riders are so far back you may not hear them anyway.An ergonomic misgiving is the dash-mounted shifter that partially obstructs the audio and HVAC controls.
They can also be drowned out by the LE-standard a 9.3-gig infotainment system with 13 Bose speakers.
Parched passengers are in luck. I counted sixteen cup holders.
Other niceties in this $48,498 blinged-out behemoth include 18-inch alloys, powered side doors and lift gate, navigation system with an eight-inch display, rear-seat DVD entertainment, blinds for the rear side windows, Nissan’s new air-scrubbing advanced climate-control system, blind-spot warning, and xenon headlamps, Topping it off, literally, was the $2,000 dual moonroof package.
On the road, the Quest’s dynamics match its upper-crust appointments. The ride is limo smooth, the cabin quiet, and the 3.5-litre V6 pulls strongly and smoothly. The best thing you can say about this continuously variable transmission is that you don’t notice it. Nissan does know its way around CVTs, and the Quest is further proof of this assertion.
I’ll confess, when first laying eyes on the BBB my initial thought was, “There’s going to be a little less meat in the broth this week”, what with gas prices going through the roof. But it wasn’t that bad. Nissan claims best-in-class city mileage at 11.1 L/100 km with highway coming in at 8.1 L/100 km. Over a week of admittedly light pedaling, I saw 11.6 L/100 km on regular fuel.
In the real world of diaper and daycare duty, this over-50-grand lux LE will be as rare as a full night’s sleep. Indeed, with a starting price of $29,998 for the base steel-wheeled Quest S, most parental pragmatists will be shopping at the Dodge store where a Grand Caravan can be had for around 20 large. As such, the Quest is here to butt heads with a pricier batch of boxes: the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey and VW Routan.Steering feel is fine but the handling is pretty doughy – the Grand Caravan is more agile if you care about such things in a minivan. The tight turning circle pays dividends when parking, as do the XXL side mirrors and back-up camera.
The second rung $35,048 Quest SV gets one-touch power sliding doors, 16-inch alloy wheels, tri-zone automatic temperature control, power driver’s seat lumbar adjustment and Quick Comfort heating, fog lights and a conversation mirror. Shamefully, still no Bluetooth.
Moving up to the $38,798 SL begets leather, 18-inch alloys, power liftgate, eight-way power driver’s seat, Homelink, auto-dimming inside mirror with compass, auto headlights, outside mirrors with integrated turn signals, rear-view monitor, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, and remote steering wheel controls.
Of course, minivans are all about utility, so how does this Nissan stack up? Differently.
While all competitors have third row seats that tumble into the floor, the Quest’s “cheap” seats flip forward, leaving the load space and useful deep covered cargo hold behind said chairs unaffected. Handy.
Similarly, the second row seats fold down easily, creating a flat floor with little effort. Those who have wrestled with seat removal or even Chrysler’s Stow ’n Go seats will appreciate this.
But here’s the rub. The load floor is much higher than in the others, so if moving antiques, building supplies or rock bands is your thing, ultimate load space is way down – around 40 per cent less when looking at the Sienna or Odyssey. That said, you could still throw a fridge in there if you had to.
For some, the Quest’s comfort, high-class cabin and ease of use will win out over ultimate carrying capacity. And whether you love or hate the styling (I didn’t see much middle ground here), you can be sure of one thing – you won’t go unnoticed.
Pricing: 2011 Nissan Quest LE
Base price: $48,498
Options: $2,000 (dual powered moonroof)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $52,158
Crash test results